White House officials stressed Wednesday that while they do not believe teachers need to be vaccinated in order to reopen schools, they think teachers should be prioritized for vaccinations like frontline workers.
“Even though we don’t feel that every teacher needs to be vaccinated before you can open a school, that doesn’t take away from the fact that we strongly support the vaccination of teachers,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said during a White House briefing.
The White House has continued to clarify its position on when and how schools should safely reopen, an issue that has become a national flashpoint since the coronavirus pandemic forced many classes online.
The comments from White House officials come after President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris both did not answer directly whether they believe teachers should be vaccinated before reopening schools when recently asked.
Biden's First 100 Days
White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said Biden and Harris agree with the recently released guidelines from the US Centers for Disease and Control Prevention that vaccinating teachers is not a requirement to reopen schools.
Biden said during a CNN town hall Tuesday that teachers should be moved higher on the list of those who are getting vaccinated against Covid-19.
“It’s about needing to be able to socially distance, smaller classes, more protection, and I think the teachers and the folks who work in the school, the cafeteria workers and others should be on the list of preferred to get a vaccination,” Biden told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
Harris echoed the same sentiment on Wednesday morning in an interview with NBC, but declined to clarify whether she believed teacher vaccinations were a requirement despite being repeatedly pressed. Wednesday evening, Harris’ chief spokesperson Symone Sanders told MSNBC the vice president agrees with the CDC guidance that vaccinating teachers is not a requirement.
The CDC’s guidelines released last week suggest it is not mandatory for teachers to be vaccinated in order to return to in-person learning, a key priority for the Biden administration in its first 100 days. But the decision is ultimately up to the states: 28 states plus the District of Columbia are currently allowing some or all of their teachers and school staff to receive Covid-19 vaccines.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki also echoed this sentiment at a separate White House briefing on Wednesday.
“The CDC guidelines included a range of mitigation steps, including vaccinations, as recommendations, but the mitigation steps also included steps like social distancing, the need for smaller class sizes, the need for sanitation,” Psaki said.
Psaki said last week that Biden’s goal was to have schools open five days a week in-person, but stressed the administration would follow the guidance of science and medical experts on how to safely reopen.
Fauci said Wednesday getting every teacher vaccinated before schools can open “really is rather impractical,” but said the White House feels “strongly” that teachers should be regarded as “a high priority within the area of essential personnel” when it comes to vaccinations.